By Omar Halawa
CAIRO: Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday the end of its military campaign Operation Decisive Storm against Shiite Houthi fighters in Yemen, and launched a new one dubbed Operation Restoring Hope, per a request made by the embattled Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Saudi military, which led the campaign for 4 weeks in collaboration with Egypt, Jordan and all gulf countries except Oman, issued a statement citing that their move came in adherence to United Nation’s Security Council resolution 2216, which stressed on “protecting civilians, fighting terrorism and offering humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people.”
Houthi rebels, who are backed from Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran, have controlled territories in Northern Yemen since September 2014, and they took over the capital Sanaa in January as they captured positions in the south afterwards. They forced Saudi-allied President Hadi to resign and put him under house arrest. Hadi later escaped to his home region of Aden, where he declared it was the new capital, and he was still the president. The Saudi campaign began as Houthi forces came close to Aden.
The shift from a military to a political tack has not been explained, but some experts have claimed Cairo’s role has been instrumental in the shift towards negotiations.
“In spite its participation in the decisive storm campaign with air and navy forces, Egypt’s stance were more pro-resolving the issue politically,” Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science in Cairo University, told The Cairo Post.
“Sisi made it clear in recent statements that the Yemeni crisis should not resort to more violence and political dialogue must take over the scene, although he was aware if the situations gets complicated and Saudi Arabia called for a ground military intervention, he would have no option other than joining, since Saudi Arabia and its gulf neighbors were Egypt’s main political and economical supporters following the June 30 Revolution,” he explained.
“But as you know, intervening in Yemen with ground forces need to be endorsed by the parliament and even if the constitution gave the President the right to act unilaterally, it would be pretty hard for him to take this decision which could spark public opinion against him,” he added.
A Yemeni official told Youm7 Tuesday that “talks were held in Cairo between Yemeni officials and different international representatives who eventually reached an agreement of 11 segments; seven of them were political and the rest were relevant to military arrangements.”
The unnamed source added that the parties agreed upon Hadi’s return to power and implementing both presidential and parliamentary elections in addition to allowing Houthis to establish a political party under the condition of their retreat from Sanaa and other positions followed the handover of the heavy weapons they posses to the pro-Hadi military forces.
In an opinion editorial published Wednesday, Salman al-Dessory, the editor-in-chief of the London-based Al Sharq Al Awsat news paper, which is believed to be the mouthpiece for Riyadh, said “The war in Yemen wasn’t the purpose; the purpose was restoring legitimacy and respond to the Houthis, and the alliance’s role is not only a military one, we’ll be offering the Yemeni people humanitarian and economical aid to re-build their country. We all hate war”.
While the official nature of Operation Restoring Hope remains vague, Foreign Policy quoted a “senior Mideast diplomat” saying that the U.S put pressure on Saudis to slow their campaign until Washington could reach a long-awaited agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, due the first of July.
“The White house has made little secret of its discomfort with Saudi Arabia’s offensive in Yemen, the military campaign should not be allowed to derail or otherwise impact the negations to limit Tehran nuclear program,” he said.
It remains to seen whether the situation in Yemen will turn into a cold war between Tehran and Riyadh or political consensus will succeed in resolving the issues and Houthis will be an official recognized political power.